(Torah Portion Vayechi) Switched!

Our forefather Yaacov blessed his 12 sons and two of his grandchildren, Efraim and Menashe, before his passing. Although Yosef’s children, Efraim and Menashe were born and raised with all the palatial privileges of decadent Egypt they remained pure and righteous and Yaacov considered both of them worthy of leading tribes of Israel.

When Yosef presented his sons before Yaacov to receive their blessings he placed Menashe, the older son, opposite his father’s right side and Efraim opposite his left side.

Surprisingly, Yaacov crossed his hands placing his more dominant right hand on Efraim and his left hand on Menashe.

When Yosef tried to correct his father, Yaacov responded that he was aware of what he was doing, and although Menashe will have great descendants, Efraim’s will be yet greater.

The great Jewish leader Joshua, who was appointed by Moshe to assume his position to lead the Jews and direct them into the Land of Israel, belonged to the tribe of Efraim. Joshua became world famous when during a particular battle, the sun did not set until the Jews were victorious.

Commentators point out a lesson in sensitivity from Yaacov’s dealing with Menashe. Firstly, Yaacov gave them both the same blessing. Additionally, Yaacov could have very well switched Efraim and Menashe’s place and have Efraim stand at his right and Menashe stand at his left. He chose the less pronounced manner of crossing his hands so that the distinction of the younger Efraim not be so obvious.

Until this point in time, when our patriarchs blessed their children, they did not place their hands on the heads of the children, they only pronounced a blessing, however, Yaacov when imparting the blessings on Efraim and Menashe felt the need for a conduit to transfer the good energy from his pure heart onto his grandchildren.

Hands from then on were the modus operandi of conferring blessings and of installing someone into a position of leadership.

When Joshua was inducted as leader, Moshe laid his hands onto his head and bestowed him with Semicha.

The right hand is associated with prominence. Therefore, when the Kohanim bless the congregation from the Duchan – stage, and stretch their arms forward connecting their hands together while spreading their fingers in a specific pattern, the Halacha – law – indicates that the right hand is to be slightly higher than the left.

Additionally, when we wash our hands upon awaking in the morning or before eating bread, we pour the water from the cup on our right hand first.

What is really amazing is that although Yaacov knew that his sons were jealous of their younger brother Yosef, and that this certainly played a role in Yosef’s disappearance for twenty two years, he was still confident that giving a higher status to the younger Efraim would not negatively affect the relationship between the two brothers.

We can see from this that Yosef, although he was subjected to a lot of suffering due to the jealousy his brothers had towards him, did not harbor any bad feelings towards them and did not transfer any feeling of resentment to his children.

Says the Igra D’Kallah, it is this ideal that we impart to our children each Friday night when we recite the blessing that Yaacov gave Efraim and Menashe. We pray that they too should follow the attitude of Efraim and Menashe looking at each other’s unique strengths and talents without harboring feelings of jealousy towards each other, which causes so much division and strife in families and with relationships in general.

Amongst Yaacov’s blessings to Yosef he told him that neither he nor his descendants will be affected by the ills of an Ayin Harah – evil eye.

Our Sages tell us that Yosef merited this because as a young boy, he stood in front of his mother Rachel obscuring her beauty from the wicked Aisav’s wanting eyes.

Perhaps Yosef merited not to be affected by the evil eye due to his outstanding and refined trait of casting a good eye on people and dismissing situations that could have warranted his annoyance and led him to harbor ill feelings towards others.

Our Sages tell us that this protection is not exclusively for a descendant of Yosef. Anyone can be protected from the ills of an evil eye – by stating that “I identify with Yosef’s special ideals and qualities!”

Have a most enjoyable, restful and peaceful Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid Saks